Even after most coronavirus measures have been discontinued, some people are still living in social isolation to avoid COVID-19 exposure. They avoid social contacts, such as visiting friends, attending theatre shows or going to cafés and restaurants. This applies to 2% of participants in behavioural research conducted by RIVM in March 2022.
The degree of social isolation varies, ranging from staying indoors completely to not going to cafés, restaurants or theatres, or going less often. Social isolation is six times more likely to occur among survey participants with severely impaired immunity and almost three times more likely among participants with another underlying medical condition, compared to survey participants without an underlying medical condition.
Reasons for social isolation
The research results revealed various reasons for social isolation. Some of the people living in social isolation are afraid of SARS-CoV-2 infection due to severely impaired immunity and/or other underlying medical conditions as overweight or obesity, or a chronic illness.
There are also people living in social isolation, even though they themselves do not have an elevated risk of serious illness from COVID-19. Reasons for social isolation within this group range from protecting a loved one to fear of the virus or uncertainty about their own health risks.
A third group involves people who have still been somewhat cautious after the measures were discontinued, but are gradually starting to participate in social activities again.
Requests for support
Only one in five survey participants living in social isolation would request additional support. In particular, survey participants who have severely impaired immunity or another underlying medical condition are more likely to feel a need for support. Examples include requests that the coronavirus measures be implemented again, or that repeat vaccinations against COVID-19 be offered more quickly and to a broader target group.
Negative effects on mental and physical health
In-depth interviews show that perceived social isolation is related to reduced mental health. The interviewees are sad to be missing out on social interaction, and feel lonely and misunderstood. Social isolation also has negative effects on work, physical health and keeping children home from school (or doing so for longer periods).